Ay, Robot!

Steven Spielberg dumbs down what could have been a great Stanley Kubrick film.

For many years, Stanley Kubrick had been planning on making A.I., but was continually thwarted by production problems. However, just as he finished filming Eyes Wide Shut everything came together and the production was green-lighted. Then he died.

Kubrick was arguably the greatest American filmmaker who ever lived. In fact, he was so great that he had to move to England, where they're more tolerant of greatness. While Kubrick's talent as an artist is beyond reproach, he did have horrible taste in friends. Tragically, one of his best pals was Steven Spielberg, who is to filmmaking what Josef Mengele was to medical care. While Kubrick was known for his cold, distancing camera work, his open soundscapes, his reluctance to over-explain and his general respect for the intelligence of his audience, Spielberg is known for making movies about killer dinosaurs and cute kids from outer space.

Well, with Kubrick dead, Spielberg took over A.I and began dumbing it down. Way down. Like, the first thing he did was rename it A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, because Spielberg believes that audiences are so stupid that if you don't explain absolutely everything to them they'll leave the theater scratching their heads and eventually they'll dig all the way through to their brains and bleed to death.

While dumbing it down, Spielberg also did the other thing he's so famous for: He cuted it up. Way up. If a shot doesn't feature a big-eyed boy begging to be loved, it features a talking teddy bear saying "I'll protect you, big-eyed boy!"

That's basically the plot of the movie, but to flesh it out a little: In the future, a robot-manufacturing company develops a machine that can feel love. The machine, in the form of an 11-year old boy, is given to the Swintons, a couple whose real son has died of a viral infection. The robot boy, played with bathetic cuteness and hugability by an actual robot (Haley Joel Osment), imprints upon Monica Swinton, his "mother," and then spends the next two and half hours begging for her love.

Sadly, Monica's real son is resurrected from the dead, and she decides to love him more than the robot boy. Then, to hammer home the difference between real boys and mechanical boys, she reads Pinocchio to the children and dumps the robot kid in the woods.

David, the robot boy, then wanders around the cruel, well-lit, incredibly warm and fuzzy world searching for Pinocchio's Blue Fairy, whom he believes can turn him into a real boy.

Of course, since this is so emotionally overwrought, Spielberg has John Williams score every moment with manipulative music, so the audience can be sure to know exactly how they're supposed to feel.

And in case that doesn't tug at our heartstrings until they sound a note three octaves above high C, Spielberg tosses in a talking teddy bear, who not only cutifies things, but also explains any element of the story too complex for the average neonate to understand.

Kubrick could have made an amazing movie with this story, because he knew that an emotional plot line requires an unemotional camera style for balance. He was also a master at using sparse music and dialogue to create an empty, open feel, which would have made the emotional content of this film more effective, because it would have been less emphatic.

Instead, Spielberg takes A.I. down the opposite road. It's basically a movie that screams "Love me! Love me!" and is about as annoying as having a needy five-year-old tug at your pants leg for two hours.

Spielberg also loves special effects, but what he doesn't realize (and Kubrick knew all too well) is that if you put in too many special effects, they cease to be special. Everything in A.I. glows and hums and floats; all the surfaces are warmly colored, smoothly curved plastics; and everything screams "Future!!!!" It's basically the opposite of Kubrick's science-fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (thankfully not titled 2001: Two-thousand-one), where the really showy special effects were reserved for the final few minutes of the film, giving them a lot more impact.

The end of A.I. is also special-effects heavy, but to make the final sequences stand out, Spielberg has to go way over the top, and winds up using computer-animated figures that look like they just fell out of a video game. He also tosses in some incredibly pretentious third-person voice-over narration by Ben Kingsley. Since A.I. is an American film set in America, the only reason to have an English narrator is because Spielberg thinks that English accents sound more intellectual, and he's desperate to appear intelligent in this film.

That's a goal that will have to remain unrealized. No matter how smart Spielberg really is (and I think he's a genius, if an aesthetically evil one), he's too wedded to stupidity to make a smart film. A.I. falls on its face, insulting its audience with an excess of exegesis and a hyperglycemic cuteness that turns it into long assault on the sensibilities of anyone seeking subtlety or understatement.

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